Ten killed as sectarian strife flares in Egypt

Ten people were killed in violence between Egyptian Christian and Muslims, the health ministry said on Wednesday, as sectarian tensions that appeared to evaporate in the country's revolution resurfaced.

The violence in Cairo on Tuesday night was the worst outbreak of sectarian strife since President Hosni Mubarak was swept from power on 11 February by a mass uprising characterised by solidarity between Christians and Muslims.

It was not immediately clear how many of the dead were Christian or Muslim. The violence had erupted following a protest by Christians over an arson attack on a church in Helwan south of Cairo.

The health ministry said 110 people were wounded in the violence, the state news agency reported.

The strife represents another challenge to the military rulers to whom Mubarak handed power, and who made restoring law and order a top priority.

Petrol bombs and rocks were thrown, witnesses said. At least one of the dead was a Christian who had been struck in the back by a bullet, but it was unclear who had fired it. The army had fired into the air at one point to disperse protesters.

The health ministry had earlier put the death toll at four.

Christians protesting over the attack on the church had blocked a main highway south of Cairo and violence started after Muslims who wanted to pass through clashed with the protesters, a security source said.  

Coptic Christians make up about ten percent of Egypt's population of 80 million.

Islamists on Tuesday protested outside the prime minister's office over the case of two women who they believe are being held against their will in churches after converting to Islam.

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